Articles ASPCA

Down the Rabbit Hole

Warning: This blog is very graphic.

After almost twenty years working to reform the humane movement, to bring it back to its original mission of saving lives, I have experienced many unexpected and heartbreaking moments of animals being betrayed by their so-called protectors. But last week was especially brutal, when not only the Humane Society of the United States, but other national groups released statements   supporting the reinstatement of Michael Vick, the most notorious animal abuser of our time, into the National Football League (NFL).

Wayne Pacelle of HSUS defended Vick’s right to get his life back together and play in the NFL again.

Ed Sayres, the President of the ASPCA, praised the Commissioner of the NFL for reinstating Vick:

:[T]he Commissioner has been particularly thoughtful and has weighed every factor in his deliberations. The ASPCA can only offer him our gratitude for the gravity to which he has lent the issue of animal cruelty, as well as the provisions that the Commissioner has set forth to ensure that Mr. Vick has a positive impact on the NFL and his community.

Opportunities for redemption are rare—but that is exactly the opportunity that awaits Mr. Vick:

Other national groups, while withholding judgment on Vick’s repentance, nonetheless failed to condemn the NFL in their own statements. One of those groups writes:

Any person who is released from prison is allowed to seek and hold employment. The National Football League today decided to give Mr. Vick a chance to return to work as a professional football player. He says he understands the mistakes he made in the past, and we can only hope that he is sincere and able to take steps to turn his life around.

For me, the facts speak for themselves:

The Investigator in charge of the Michael Vick case writes that Vick “thought it was funny to watch the dogs: injure or kill the other dogs.” He also writes that Vick and his associates killed dogs in many ways:

  • By hanging: “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 x 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed.”
  • By drowning: “by putting the dogs’ heads in a 5 gallon bucket of water.”
  • By blunt force trauma: “by slamming [dogs] to the ground several times : breaking the dog’s back or neck.”
  • By shooting: “by shooting the animal with a .22 caliber handgun.”
  • By electrocution. According to one of the people Vick paid “to live on the property, take care of the dogs, and arrange dog fights,” “He admitted killing numerous dogs after ‘testing’ and after fights by shooting and electrocuting the dogs and then burying them on the: property.”

This sterile, though brutal, rendition of the facts does not nearly tell the story of what the dogs went through. According to Bad Rap, one of the groups who rescued the victims of Vick’s brutality:

I just can’t get myself away from the swimming pool in Vick’s yard. I first learned about it while riding in the back seat of a federal agent’s car that sweltering Tuesday back in Sept 07. The agent was assigned with escorting us to the various Virginia shelters so we could evaluate “the evidence” otherwise known as 49 pit bulls – now known as cherished family pets: Hector, Uba, Jhumpa, Georgia, Sweet Jasmine and the rest. I’m not sure if sharing insider information with us was kosher, but you know how driving down long country roads can get you talking. I imagine she just needed to get some things off her chest. She said she was having trouble sleeping since the day they exhumed the bodies on the Moonlight Road property. She said that when she watched the investigators uncover the shallow graves, she was compelled to want to climb in and pick up the decomposing dogs and comfort and cradle them. She knew that was crazy talk, and she was grappling with trying to understand such a surprising impulse.

Her candor set the tone for this entire saga. Everyone we worked with was deeply affected by the case. The details that got to me then and stay with me today involve the swimming pool that was used to kill some of the dogs. Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick’s dogs were small – 40lbs or so – so tossing them in would’ve been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don’t know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.

I wear some pretty thick skin during our work with dogs, but I can’t shake my minds-eye image of a little black dog splashing frantically in bloody water : screaming in pain and terror : brown eyes saucer wide and tiny black white-toed feet clawing at anything, desperate to get a hold. This death did not come quickly. The rescuer in me keeps trying to think of a way to go back in time and somehow stop this torture and pull the little dog to safety. I think I’ll be looking for ways to pull that dog out for the rest of my life.

The government investigator continues: According to one of Vick’s associates, “After the testing, he observed a person driving an all terrain vehicle (ATV) with dead dogs stacked in the bed of the ATV. He did not see anyone kill the dogs. However, he heard noises when the dogs were being killed.” Investigators found decomposing dogs buried on the property, they found pieces of plywood flooring covered in dog blood, spent bullet casings, clothing with blood stains, syringes, and burned carpet. The cause of death was determined to be “hanging, drowning, and being slammed to death.”

Even when some of the abusers wanted to give dogs who would not fight away rather than kill them, “Vick stated ‘they got to go,’ meaning they needed to be killed.” “One dog that did not die from hanging was taken down and drowned in a 5 gallon bucket of water.” In another case, “Vick took down one of the dogs that would not die from hanging and tossed the dog to the side. He later hung the same dog until it died. He wore overalls, which were hung in the garage, when he killed the dogs, so he would not soil his clothes.”

At first Vick denied killing any dogs. But “Vick was administered a polygraph examination by the FBI. Vick failed the examination as it related to the killing of the dogs: Ultimately, Vick recanted his previous statement wherein he said he was not actually involved in the killing: Vick admitted taking part in the actual hanging of the dogs.”

Their brutality was not limited to dogs: “They used live chickens and rabbits as bait when training dogs:”

There are many, many words that come to mind to adequately describe Vick’s reinstatement by the NFL—intolerable, obscene, outrageous, and shameful. But as for the words chosen by the large, national organizations—redemption, a positive impact, mistakes, sincere, thoughtful, gratitude, hope, right—I can only shake my head in disgust.

For further reading:

Read the No Kill Advocacy Center’s letter to the NFL by clicking here.

Read “In Bed with Monsters” by clicking here.

Read “And the Monster Went Free” by clicking here.